The Bass Drum: Unlocking Its Secrets and Unveiling Its Magic

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  May 24, 2022

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A bass drum is a drum that produces low pitches or bass sounds. It’s one of the fundamental instruments in any drum set. A bass drum is also known as a “kick drum” or “kick”.

In this article, I’ll explain the different aspects of a bass drum so you can get a full understanding of this important instrument.

What is a bass drum

In this post we'll cover:

The Bass Drum: A Percussion Instrument With a Big Sound

What Is a Bass Drum?

A bass drum is a percussion instrument with an indefinite pitch, cylindrical drum, and double-headed drum. It’s also known as a ‘side drum’ or ‘snare drum’. It’s used in a variety of musical styles, from military music to jazz and rock.

What Does It Look Like?

The bass drum is cylindrical in shape, with a depth of 35-65 cm. It’s usually made of wood, such as beech or walnut, but can also be made of plywood or metal. It has two heads – a batter head and a resonating head – which are usually made of calfskin or plastic, with a diameter of 70-100 cm. It also has 10-16 tensioning screws for adjusting the heads.

What Do You Play It With?

You can play the bass drum with bass drum sticks with soft felt heads, timpani mallets, or wood sticks. It’s also suspended in a frame with a swivel attachment, so you can place it at any angle.

Why Is It Important?

The bass drum plays an essential role in western musical styles. It has a variable timbre and can be used to mark the rhythm in both large and small ensembles. It covers the bass register within the orchestra percussion section, while the tenor drum corresponds to the tenor and the snare drum to the treble register. It’s usually only used one at a time, as it can produce some of the loudest and softest effects in the orchestra.

The Anatomy of a Bass Drum

The Shell

The bass drum is made up of a cylindrical soundbox, or shell, usually made of wood, plywood, or metal.

The Heads

The two heads of the drum are stretched across the open ends of the shell, held in place by a flesh hoop and a counter hoop. The heads are tightened by screws, allowing them to be precisely tensioned. Calf heads are generally used in orchestras, while plastic heads are used in pop, rock, and military music. The batter head is usually thicker than the resonating head.

The Frame

The bass drum is suspended in a special, usually round frame, held in place by leather or rubber straps (or sometimes wires). This allows the drum to be placed in any angle or playing position.

Bass Drum Sticks: The Basics

What Are They?

Bass drum sticks are thick-handled sticks with thick felt heads, used to strike a bass drum. They’re usually 7-8 cm in diameter and 25-35 cm long, with a wood core and a thick felt wrap.

Different Types of Sticks

Depending on the sound you’re after, you can use different types of sticks:

  • Hard felt sticks: produce a harder sound with less volume.
  • Leather sticks (mailloche): wood sticks with leather heads, for a hard timbre.
  • Wood sticks (like cymbal or xylophone sticks): dry, hard-edged and noise-like.
  • Side drum sticks: very dry, dead, hard, precise and noise-like.
  • Brushes: hissing and buzzing sound, also noise-like.
  • Marimba or vibraphone mallets: hard timbre with less volume.

When to Use Them?

Bass drum sticks are great for regular bass drum strikes, but they can also be used for rolls at lower dynamic levels. They’re also used for rhythmically complex or rapid passages, depending on the size and type of drum head. And you can use other sticks to create nuances or effects.

Notation: A Brief History

20th Century Onwards

Since the 20th century, bass drum parts have been written on a single line with no clef. This became the standard way of writing the part, as the drum has no definite pitch. In jazz, rock and pop music, the bass drum part is always written at the bottom of a system.

Older Works

In older works, the bass drum part was usually written in bass clef on the A3 line, or sometimes as a C3 (like the tenor drum). In old scores, the bass drum part often contained notes with two stems. This indicated that the note was to be played with the drumstick and the switch simultaneously (the switch is an older and less commonly used form of “brush”, normally consisting of a bundle of twigs tied together). or an organization.

The Art of Bass Drumming

Finding the Ideal Striking Spot

When it comes to bass drumming, finding the ideal striking spot is key. It’s all about trial and error, as every bass drum has its own unique sound. Generally, the stick should be held in the right hand, and the spot for full-sounding single strokes is about a hand-width from the center of the head.

Positioning the Drum

The drum should be positioned so that the heads are vertical, but at an angle. The percussionist strikes the head from the side, and if the drum is completely horizontal, the sound quality is poorer because the vibrations are reflected from the floor.

Performing Rolls

To perform rolls, the player uses two sticks which are smaller and lighter than those used for single strokes. The batter head is damped with the fingers, the hand, or the entire arm, and the resonating head with the left hand.

Tuning the Drum

Unlike the timpani, for which a definite pitch is desired, pains are taken when constructing and tuning a bass drum to avoid a definite pitch. The heads are tuned to a pitch between C and G, and the resonating head is tuned to about a half step lower. Striking the drum with a large, soft stick helps to remove any traces of pitch.

Popular Music

In popular music, the bass drum is placed on the floor with feet, so that the heads are vertical. The drummer strikes the drum by means of a pedal, and cloths are often used to damp the sound further. Tubing is let into the bass drum shell on which other instruments such as cymbals, cowbells, tom-toms, or small effects instruments are mounted. This combination of instruments is known as the drum kit or trap set.

Military Bands

In military bands, the bass drum is carried in front of the stomach and beaten on both heads. The heads of these drums are often plastic and of the same thickness.

Bass Drum Techniques

Single Strokes

Bass drummers need to know how to hit the sweet spot – usually about a hand-width away from the center of the head. For short notes, you can either hit the center of the head for a weaker, less resonant sound, or dampen the note according to the value.

Dampened Strokes

For a harder, duller sound, you can put a cloth over the batter head – but not the striking spot. You can also dampen the resonating head. The size of the cloth depends on the size of the head.

Con la Mano

Striking the head with your fingers will give you a bright, thin, and soft tone.

Unison Strokes

For powerful fortissimo effects, use two sticks to hit the batter head at the same time. This will increase the dynamics.

Rapid Repetitions

Rapid sequences aren’t common on bass drums due to their resonance, so if you need to play them, you’ll need to partially cover the head with a cloth. Hard sticks or wood sticks will help make each stroke more distinct.

Rolls

Rolls can be played near the center of the batter head for a darker sound, or near the edge for a brighter sound. If you need a crescendo, start near the rim and move in towards the center.

Beater on Beater

For pianissimo and piano effects, place a beater in the center of the head and strike it with another beater. Immediately remove the beater from the head to let the sound develop.

Wire Brushes

Strike the head with the brush for a metallic buzzing sound, or brush it firmly for a dull, hissing noise.

Bass Pedal

For rock, pop, and jazz music, you can use the bass pedal to attack. This will give you a dry, dead, and monotonous sound.

Bass Drum in Classical Music

Uses

Classical music gives composers a lot of freedom when it comes to using the bass drum. Here are some common uses:

  • Adding color to the sound
  • Adding weight to loud sections
  • Creating sound effects like thunder or an earthquake

Mounting

Bass drums are too big to be held by hand, so they need to be mounted in some way. Here are some popular ways to mount a bass drum:

  • Shoulder harness
  • Floor stand
  • Adjustable cradle

Strikers

The type of striker used for a bass drum depends on the type of music. Here are some common strikers:

  • Single heavy felt-covered mallet
  • Mallet and rute combo
  • Double-headed mallet for rolls
  • Pedal-mounted beater.

Drumming Up the Basics

The Bass Drum

The bass drum is the foundation of any drum kit, and it comes in a variety of sizes. From 16 to 28 inches in diameter, and depths ranging from 12 to 22 inches, the bass drum is usually 20 or 22 inches in diameter. Vintage bass drums are typically shallower than the standard 22 in x 18 in.

To get the best sound out of your bass drum, you may want to consider:

  • Adding a hole in the front head of the drum to allow air to escape when struck, resulting in a shorter sustain
  • Installing muffling through the hole without removing the front head
  • Placing microphones inside the drum for recording and amplification
  • Using trigger pads to amplify the sound and maintain a consistent tone
  • Customizing the front head with a logo or name of your band
  • Using a pillow, blanket, or professional mufflers inside the drum to dampen the blow from the pedal
  • Choosing different beaters, such as felt, wood, or plastic
  • Adding a tom-tom mount on the top to save money

The Drum Pedal

The drum pedal is the key to making your bass drum sound great. In 1900, Sonor drum company introduced the first single bass drum pedal, and William F. Ludwig made it workable in 1909.

The pedal operates by pressing a footplate to pull a chain, belt, or metal drive mechanism downward, bringing a beater or mallet forward into the drumhead. The beater head is usually made of felt, wood, plastic, or rubber and is attached to a rod-shaped metal shaft.

The tension unit controls the amount of pressure needed to strike and the amount of recoil upon release. For a double bass drum pedal, a second footplate controls a second beater on the same drum. Some drummers opt for two separate bass drums with a single pedal on each.

Playing Techniques

When playing the bass drum, there are three primary ways to play single strokes with one foot:

  • Heel-down technique: Plant your heel on the pedal and play the strokes with your ankle
  • Heel-up technique: Lift your heel off the pedal and play the strokes with your hip
  • Double stroke technique: Lift your heel off the pedal and use both feet to play double strokes

For a closed hi-hat sound, drummers use a drop clutch to keep the cymbals closed without use of the pedal.

The Bass Line: Making Music with Marching Drums

What is a Bass Line?

A bass line is a unique musical ensemble made up of graduated pitch marching bass drums, commonly found in marching bands and drum and bugle corps. Each drum plays a different note, giving the bass line a unique task in a musical ensemble. Skilled lines execute complex linear passages split among the drums to add an additional melodic element to the percussion section.

How Many Drums in a Bass Line?

A bass line typically consists of four or five musicians, each carrying one tuned bass drum, although variations do occur. Smaller lines are not uncommon in smaller groups, such as some high school marching bands, and several groups have had one musician playing more than one bass drum.

What Size are the Drums?

The drums are typically between 16″ and 32″ in diameter, but some groups have used bass drums as small as 14″ and larger than 36″. The drums in a bass line are tuned such that the largest will always play the lowest note with the pitch increasing as the size of the drum decreases.

How are the Drums Mounted?

Unlike the other drums in a drumline, the bass drums are generally mounted sideways, with the drumhead facing horizontally, rather than vertically. This means that bass drummers must face perpendicular to the rest of the band and so are the only section in most groups whose bodies do not face the audience while playing.

Bass Drum Technique

The motion of the basic stroke is either similar to the motion of turning a doorknob, that is, an absolute forearm rotation, or similar to that of a snare drummer, where the wrist is the primary actor, or more commonly, a hybrid of these two strokes. Bass drum technique sees huge variation between different groups both in the ratio of forearm rotation to wrist turn and the differing views on how the hand works while playing.

Different Sounds a Bass Line Can Produce

The basic stroke on a drum produces just one of the many sounds a bass line can produce. Along with the solo drum, the “unison” is one of the most common sounds used. It is produced when all of the bass drums play a note at the same time and with a balanced sound; this option has a very full, powerful sound. The rim click, which is when the shaft (near the mallet head) is struck against the rim of the drum, is also a popular sound.

The Power of the Bass Drum in Marching Bands

The Role of the Bass Drum

The bass drum is an essential part of any marching band, providing the tempo and a deep, melodic layer. It’s usually made up of five drummers, each with their own specific role:

  • The bottom bass is the largest and is often referred to as the “heartbeat” of the ensemble, providing a low, steady pulse.
  • The fourth bass plays quicker notes than the bottom one.
  • The middle bass adds another rhythmical layer.
  • The second and top drums, the narrowest ones, sometimes play in unison with the snare drums.

The Directional Role of the Bass Drum

Bass drums also have an important directional role in marching bands. For example, one stroke orders the band to start marching and two strokes order the band to stop marching.

Choosing the Right Bass Drum

Choosing the right bass drum for your kit or purpose is essential for getting that deep, kicking sound. So make sure to do your research and pick the right one for you!

Synonyms and Translations of Bass Drums

Synonyms

Bass drums have many nicknames, such as:

  • Gran Cassa (It)
  • Grosse Caisse (Fr)
  • Grosse Trommel (Ger)
  • Bombo (Sp)

Translations

When it comes to translations, bass drums have a few:

  • Gran Cassa (It)
  • Grosse Caisse (Fr)
  • Grosse Trommel (Ger)
  • Bombo (Sp)

Differences

Bass Drum Vs Kick Drum

The bass drum is larger than the kick drum. This is the main difference between the two instruments, as the bass drum is typically 22″ or larger, while the kick drum is usually 20″ or smaller. The bass drum also has a louder and more resounding tone than the kick drum, and is played with a hand beater, while the kick drum utilizes a pedal.

Bass Drum Vs Timpani

The bass drum is typically larger than the timpani and has a distinct shell and drumhead design. It can also incorporate a kick pedal, whereas timpani are played exclusively with mallets. The timpani are slightly higher-pitched than the bass drum, and they trace their origin from the Ottoman kettledrums used in military operations. The bass drum, on the other hand, originated from the Turkish davul and was adopted by Western Europeans in the 18th century. It was also key in the development of the modern drum kit.

FAQ

Is the bass drum easy to play?

No, the bass drum isn’t easy to play. It requires good rhythm, counting, and subdivision skills, as well as listening. It also takes more muscle movement to initiate a stroke. The grip is similar to that of a tenor player, with the mallet resting on the bottom of the fingers and the thumb forming a fulcrum with the index/middle finger. Playing position is with the mallet in the center of the head.

Important Relations

Drum Kit

A drum kit is a collection of drums and other percussion instruments, typically cymbals, which are set up on stands to be played by a single player, with drumsticks held in both hands and the feet operating pedals that control the hi-hat cymbal and the beater for the bass drum. The bass drum, or kick drum, is typically the largest drum in the kit and is played by a foot pedal.

The bass drum is the foundation of the drum kit, providing the low-end thump that drives the groove of the song. It is often the loudest drum in the kit, and its sound is easily recognizable. The bass drum is usually the first drum that a drummer learns to play and is used to set the tempo of the song. It is also used to create accents and to create a sense of power in the music.

The bass drum is typically mounted on a stand and is played with a foot pedal. The pedal is connected to a beater, which is a stick-like object that strikes the drumhead when the pedal is depressed. The beater can be made of different materials, such as felt, plastic, or wood, and can be adjusted to create different sounds. The size of the bass drum can also affect the sound, with larger drums producing a deeper, more powerful sound.

The bass drum is often used in combination with other drums in the kit, such as the snare drum, to create a full drum sound. It is also used to create a steady beat in the music, and can be used to create a sense of tension or excitement. The bass drum is also used to provide a low-end thump in the music, which can be used to create a sense of power or intensity.

In summary, the bass drum is the foundation of the drum kit and is used to provide the low-end thump that drives the groove of the song. It is typically the largest drum in the kit and is played with a foot pedal connected to a beater. The bass drum is often used in combination with other drums in the kit to create a full drum sound, and it can also be used to create a steady beat and a sense of power or intensity in the music.

Marching Band

Marching bands typically feature a bass drum, which is a large drum that produces a low, powerful sound. It is usually the biggest drum in the ensemble and is usually played with two mallets. The bass drum is usually placed at the center of the ensemble and is used to set the tempo and provide the foundation for the rest of the band. It is also used to punctuate the end of a phrase or to add emphasis to a particular section. The bass drum is often used to provide a steady beat that the rest of the band can follow.

The bass drum is an essential part of the marching band, as it provides the foundation for the rest of the ensemble. Without it, the band would lack the necessary low end to create a powerful sound. The bass drum is also used to provide a steady beat that the rest of the band can follow. This is especially important for marching bands, as they must march in time with the music. The bass drum is also used to punctuate the end of a phrase or to add emphasis to a particular section.

The bass drum is usually played with two mallets, which are held in each hand. The mallets are usually made of wood or plastic and are used to strike the drumhead. The bass drum is usually tuned to a specific pitch and is usually tuned lower than the other drums in the ensemble. This allows the bass drum to provide a low, powerful sound that can be heard over the rest of the ensemble.

The bass drum is an essential part of the marching band and is used to provide a low, powerful sound that can be heard over the rest of the ensemble. It is also used to provide a steady beat that the rest of the band can follow, as well as to punctuate the end of a phrase or to add emphasis to a particular section. The bass drum is usually played with two mallets, which are held in each hand and are used to strike the drumhead.

Concert Bass

Concert bass is a type of bass drum that is used in concert bands and orchestras. It is typically larger than a standard bass drum and is usually played with a mallet or stick. The sound of the concert bass is deeper and fuller than that of a standard bass drum, and it is often used to provide a low-pitched foundation for the rest of the ensemble.

The concert bass is usually positioned at the back of the ensemble, behind the other percussion instruments. It is usually placed on a stand and is played with a mallet or stick. The mallet or stick is used to strike the head of the drum, producing a low-pitched and deep sound. The sound of the concert bass is usually louder than the sound of a standard bass drum, and it is often used to provide a low-pitched foundation for the rest of the ensemble.

The concert bass is an important part of the concert band and orchestra, as it provides a low-pitched foundation for the rest of the ensemble. It is also used to provide a low-pitched accompaniment to the other instruments in the ensemble. The concert bass is an essential part of the ensemble and is often used to provide a low-pitched foundation for the rest of the ensemble.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the bass drum is an essential percussion instrument in many western musical styles. It is a cylindrical, double-headed drum with calfskin or plastic heads and tensioning screws to adjust the sound. It is played with bass drum sticks, timpani mallets, wood sticks, or brushes to create different nuances and effects. If you want to try out the bass drum, make sure to learn the basics of drumming and practice with the different sticks and mallets to get the best sound. With a little bit of practice, you’ll be able to create beautiful music with the bass drum!

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

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